Rules, rules, rules! You can’t have a phone in your house. You can’t have electricity. Your dress has to be a certain length. You can’t drive a car. The windows in your house can’t be too big.
I couldn’t wait to turn 16, the magic age of freedom when youth become adults and able to date. (According to Dr. Joe Wittmer, a former Amishman, Amish parents view this as a very important “faith considering,” decision-making time.) It was the time when I would be able to throw away the rules and do anything I wanted. The problem was I still had two years to go before I hit that age of freedom.
Then in the spring of 2002, awkwardness lay heavily on our household. There seemed to be a tight string of tension stretched between my parents. We kids stepped carefully through our lives, trying not to trip on that strand holding our parents together.
One afternoon I overheard my mom desperately trying to convince my dad to leave the Amish. This didn’t come as a shock because I had always known my parents didn’t enjoy the restrictive Amish lifestyle. The only thing holding Dad back was his mother. He knew it would devastate her to have her eldest son leave the existence she had raised him in.
In the coming weeks we stopped going to church. People came to visit, trying to persuade my parents to return to the Amish way of life. When my parents didn’t follow their wishes, our family was excommunicated. Mom’s parents put a major guilt trip on her by telling her that the Bible condemned those who didn’t honor their parents. To the Amish, we had committed a major sin and were certainly going to hell.
That spring my parents changed my life. When we left the Amish I experienced extreme freedom.I started going to high school (Amish children only go to school for eight years), attended a Mennonite church, played volleyball, made new friends, got my driver’s license, and now I’m starting college. After college I plan to travel the world as a missionary and never settle down. I don’t want children and I’ll marry only if I find a guy who wants to do the same things that I want to do.
If I had stayed Amish, I would probably have several house-cleaning jobs, have a serious boyfriend, and be getting married within the year. I would most likely have ended up with ten kids and stayed at home cooking, cleaning, and being totally tied down to my family with no freedom. I would have gone insane. When I think of how my life could have turned out, I feel thankful, but it also makes me cringe. I’m very thankful to no longer be Amish.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.